Sorry Gumby, time to go

Last meeting of the Vancouver Island Branch of the CIMarE I finally met Mr. Darren Williams and was re-introduce to the universal fit survival suit. He was there to introduce us to a problem that I thought was… oh hum – at first. I didn’t really think about it, as I imagine most really don’t, until it is too late. It was not long before Darren quickly illustrated the issues and solutions to problems I did not realize the importance of. I have definitely experienced them, in the many drills where I have donned the “gumby” type survival suit and gone for a swim with them.

The problem is that the universal fit survival suit, found on most vessels, meet regulations set by Transport Canada, but those test do not reflect real world conditions. Real world conditions have shown that a significant amount of water can enter the suit by way of the face and wrist seal areas, and more importantly that a very little amount of water can dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the suit. Darren Williams, in May 2004, wrote a excellent piece on this, which can be found on his website. About four years later, in 2008, he was still raising awareness of this issue and was showing us in person the design flaws of the current suits. Today, in the news, Transport Canada is reported to have recognized the shortfall of the “gumby” suits and has issued a certificate of compliance for a new design of survival suits that addresses the issues raised, and championed by Mr. Williams.

The new survival suit that was shown to us by Darren, as an example of prototypes to addresses the issues raised, was from Victoria based Frank White. The suit is much akin to a dry suit, scuba divers use for cold weather dives, with latex rubber seals around the neck and wrist and a water tight zipper across the chest. The head is protected by a combination face shield, hood and flotation pillow (see picture – more pictures). It is designed to address the water ingress flaws.

I want to congratulate Darren for persisting with this issue for four long years, and will invite him to champion the Canadian Seafarer Tax issue, ehehehee, ok well maybe not just yet. Turns out Darren is an admirer of the site, and along with being a successful maritime lawyer, has written many articles on seafarers and their legal exposures, in various local maritime magazines. He has graciously agreed to share his knowledge and offer us his professional opinions in a soon to come legal area of the Ship’s Library. Some might say he’s a lawyer and talks “goobledigoop” talk, but you would be surprise how easy to read, and most importantly, how his legal insight is applicable to marine engineers.

Yes, that is me in the picture, in a survival suit during a drill off Triangle Island at the north end of Vancouver Island. I know first hand the leakage problems and with the new Transport Canada findings, I am realizing the severity of the problem.

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